Union Pacific Contraceptive Coverage Suit Gets Class Action Status

April 6, 2005 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A Nebraska federal judge has granted class action status to a lawsuit representing about 400 current and former Union Pacific Railroad workers who are fighting the company's policy to exclude contraception coverage in its union health plans.

>US District Judge Laurie Smith Camp of the US District Court for the District of Nebraska issued the ruling in the sex discrimination case after a US magistrate recommended the move, according to a BNA report. A company spokesman told BNA the suit applies only to employees covered under union contracts since the Union Pacific benefit plan for nonunion employees already includes contraceptive coverage.

The case stems from a three-year-old suit by a group of female employees, led by class representatives Brandi Standridge and Kenya Phillips, both of whom are engineers with the railroad. The women turned to the courts after the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled in their favor on allegations that Union Pacific was violating Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in its benefits policies. 

After hearing evidence in the case, a federal magistrate recommended certification of the class to include all female employees who were enrolled in any of the union-negotiated health plans since February 2001 and who used prescription contraception without insurance reimbursement.

Asserted the magistrate: “The record shows that Union Pacific Railroad has ‘acted or refused to act on grounds generally applicable to the class’ in that the [health plans] continue to exclude coverage for drugs, devices, and related medical services prescribed solely for the purpose of preventing pregnancy, despite the named plaintiffs’ personal requests for coverage, their filing of charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the EEOC’s finding of cause.”

For its part, Union Pacific continued to insist on its innocence. “The ruling does not address whether or not Union Pacific did anything wrong,” the company said in an April 4 statement, adding, “Union Pacific will defend, however, any motions brought against it.”

The case is In re: Union Pac. R.R. Employment Practices Litigation, D. Neb., No. 8:03 CV 437, class certified 3/31/05).

The contraceptive coverage issue is hardly a new one – being the subject of numerous lawsuits in the last several years (See Cover My Pills ).